Life Lines: Stem Cell Research In a Globalized World

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Ellison, Brooke Mackenzie
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Matters of science traditionally have been looked at from two sociological perspectives. The Sociology of Scientific Knowledge (SSK) argues that science is similar to other socially constructed phenomena, and is a product of context. From this perspective, science and culture have an inextricable relationship. World Polity Theory (WPT), on the other hand, makes the argument that science is a rationalistic entity that exists outside of cultural forces, and brings societies from backward thinking to modern thinking. Taken together, WPT and SSK have explained many of the sociological features of scientific development, sometimes explaining different aspects of the same phenomenon. However, as science becomes increasingly complex and multidimensional, these two theories leave room for additional analysis. Bourdieu's Field Theory brings to light how interactions between social actors make certain social realities possible, and create the environments for the development of policy matters. This theoretical approach is a necessary addition to better understand science as it is codified in policy. The scientific field of embryonic stem cell research is an ideal site to apply these theoretical frameworks. This analysis investigates stem cell research legislation in four contexts: the US, UK, Germany, and China. Each of these cases presents a set of considerations, which changes the landscape of the political field in which stem cell research has evolved. In these cases, the impact of four social actors has been addressed: the Catholic Church, scientific community, pharmaceutical industry, and patient advocacy community. How these actors operate in each context is dependent on a confluence of social forces. The US' stem cell policymaking has been defined by a battle for epistemic authority on issues of life. The UK case illustrates the role of expertise as authority in democratic policymaking. The German case illustrates the ways in which collective memory of iconic events operates through social actors. And, China represents a control case, indicating how policy can evolve in circumstances where the political field is limited. Taken together, these cases illustrate how Sociology of Scientific Knowledge, World Polity Theory, and Field Theory can work together to explain complex modern science.
296 pg.
The Graduate School, Stony Brook University: Stony Brook, NY.
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